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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Criminal Intent’s Eric Bogosian and Theater’s Future

The Buffalo News did a nice piece on Eric Bogosian (Captain Danny Ross, Law & Order Criminal Intent) and his ideas on the future of the theater. Die-hard Law & Order fans know that Bogosian is an accomplished playwright, and that one of his plays, Talk Radio, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist.

Here’s the story:

Eric Bogosian thinks small when it comes to local theater

By Colin Dabkowski - News Arts Writer
Updated: 04/09/08 11:32 AM

Eric Bogosian has an idea of where the theater is headed. “I really believe that the hope of the theater, the future of the theater, is in smaller, enthusiastic theater companies,” Bogosian said, bemoaning the failure of many regional theaters to produce relevant, challenging drama.

Smaller, more entrepreneurial companies, he said, are “the only way to go.”

The playwright, actor and novelist spoke to The Buffalo News between a rewrite session for his forthcoming play “One Plus One” and a shoot for a future episode of “Law and Order: Criminal Intent,” in which he stars.

The small and enthusiastic Road Less Traveled Productions, a 6-year-old Buffalo outfit that focuses on developing and producing local playwrights, is hosting Bogosian on April 23 for the first of its planned “American Theater Masters” series in association with a production of Bogosian’s play “Humpty Dumpty.” During his visit, Bogosian will meet with Road Less Traveled writers and actors and host a meet-and-greet fundraiser for the company at the Shea’s Intermission Lounge. The local production of “Humpty Dumpty” opens Friday.

To many, Bogosian is known for his idiosyncratic, stream-of- consciousness monologues and the well-received plays “Talk Radio” and “subUrbia,” both of which were written more than a decade ago and just recently received their first Broadway productions. Most have probably caught a glimpse of his character, Captain Danny Ross, on the popular NBC series “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.”

“Humpty Dumpty” is a vaguely apocalyptic thriller about a savvy, self-involved pair of couples whose lives come royally unhinged during a vacation in the Adirondack Mountains.

The show was first produced at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, N.J., in 2002 to lukewarm reviews and later at the San Jose Repertory Theatre. Beyond that, it has had a limited life, overshadowed by some of Bogosian’s larger projects — not to mention the wildly morphing tastes of Broadway producers. But it’s no less beloved by the playwright.

“I had to write this play,” Bogosian said.

He characterized the ebb and flow of his fame and critical reception — with two recent Broadway productions following a lengthy period barely under the radar in the New York theatrical establishment— as a fact of life.

“Every writer believes that if he isn’t embraced, then they’re not getting it, and when he is embraced and lauded, the writer believes that they get it perfectly. And probably neither thing is true,” Bogosian said, making comparisons to his neighbor Edward Albee and, of all people, Johan Sebastian Bach.

“I’m now at that point which I’ve seen other writers be at, where you just take it all with a grain of salt and realize that you’re not writing for the critics, you’re not writing to get huge crowds or to have a hit. You’re not writing to make money. You’re writing because you have to write.”

It’s that same relentless compulsion that fuels much of Bogosian’s work, and, judging by the steady stream of frenetic thoughts and phrases that ushered from the playwright’s mouth during this half-hour interview break, probably most phone conversations, too.

Road Less Traveled picked “Humpty Dumpty” from Bogosian’s substantial catalog both because it was an easily cast five-hander and, as the company’s artistic director Scott Behrend said, a thematically current look at our increasingly paranoid world.

When the foursome’s Adirondack cabin and the surrounding area lose electricity and ominous gunshots are heard in the distance, the two couples in “Humpty Dumpty” must fend for themselves without the help of cell phones or laptops.

And in this piece, as the title makes clear, Bogosian is thinking big. Left without life-sustaining technology, all the king’s Blackberries and Mac- Books are unable to resurrect a society that teetered off the high wall the instant someone yanked the plug out of the wall.

Bogosian began writing the play in 1999 as a commentary on the then-impending Y2K “crisis,” an overblown, media-driven frenzy now rendered quaint and almost laughable in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001. After the attacks, which Bogosian said almost forced him to set down his poison pen for good, he revised the play to include a more universal idea of human vulnerability.

“[It] speaks to how we develop status based on things that really have nothing to do with survival skills,” Bogosian said of the play. “That was the thing we were thinking on 9/11. I mean, if this thing kept going, what was gonna happen to us?”

Bogosian’s commentary on American paranoia seems rooted as much in a criticism of his yuppie archetypes (the bulk of our society, he seems to say) as his own spine-tingling conception of world affairs.

“If you really look at what is going on, it’s not as if there’s an al Qaida out there that’s conspiring to kill us all. It’s that we have a very, very fragile, complex mega-society that can be attacked from a lot of different directions. It could be a computer virus tomorrow that could shut the whole schmegege down. Many things could happen,” Bogosian said, going on to cite the Oklahoma City bombing, the Washington, D.C., snipers, the Unabomber, the threat of an anthrax attack and, finally, Hurricane Katrina.

That’s a lot to worry about.

And one couldn’t blame Behrend, who directs the play, for approaching it with a little paranoia of his own, especially since the playwright will be in attendance April 23. But he doesn’t seem worried.

“We’re putting our best foot forward I think in all areas for this production,” Behrend said. “I like to look at this piece as a real sort of mirror for a lot of our social foibles right now, especially in terms of getting sucked up into our cell phone, e-mail, technology-driven society and what that does to our relationships.”

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